Diversity Makes the Soil Rich

Icon thx Oliviu Stoian via nounproject

Icon thx Oliviu Stoian via nounproject

Last weekend we visited Fort Whyte Alive, an environment education centre, home to wetlands and walking trails, a herd of bison, and thousands of geese this time of year.

Fort Whyt'es the staging area for thousands of geese.

The staging area for thousands of geese.

We learned about the prairie ecosystem, and how the prairie plants, wildlife and soil are intertwined, and essential to the health of our planet. We also leaned how, by creating monocultures (growing one kind of plant in a field) of farmland, we’d unwittingly lost a lot what a prairie can offer to the planet and its inhabitants. Things like water and air purification. Not to mention all the plant and animal species that can’t survive without a rich and varied prairie ecosystem to call home. Even the quality and mineral-richness of the soil itself suffers when it’s used to support monocultures.

This is obviously a literal problem, and it’s exciting to see and reclamation projects like Fort Whyte that are working to educate us about the prairie and wetland ecosystems, and restore some of the natural habitat that once covered our corner of the world.

But this also got me thinking about diversity metaphorically, as it relates to other parts of life. Here’s an example:

The monocultures of work and family

I’ve always been a “work/family balance” guy. When the kids are awake, I usually try to stay away from my computer, tackling projects either at the office or after the kids are in bed. I want to be an attentive and present dad.

But my six-year-old came across some of my work this weekend, and she couldn’t resist jumping in. (Granted, it was the fun kind of work. I’d been building paper prototypes of app designs for an online interaction design course I’m taking. To any kid, paper prototypes look like “play”, not “work”.)

She took a look at my prototype and decided to build one of her own. Once she’d finished, she was quick to point out that hers was better because it included lots of animals, in full colour, I might add.

Mine vs hers. The puppy definitely has more charm.

Mine vs hers. The puppy definitely has more charm.

It was priceless. I never thought I’d be doing design projects with my daughter. And I actually learned a lot from how she tackled the problem the app was trying to solve.

Letting her into my work made the work better, and provided some interesting learning and quality time together at the same time.

I wondered, in my attempts to make family and work their own separate “monocultures”, and trying not to let them mix too much, were they both suffering? What if, instead of making my work a “grown ups” thing, I opened my office door to let my kids help out once in a while? Would both my family and my work get richer if I embraced a more diverse and integrated lifestyle?

Try opening the door

Monocultures are easy and efficient (at least on the surface). Working with people from different backgrounds, with different opinions and perspectives, can be complicated. As far as “generational diversity” goes, getting “help” from children often makes the job take a lot longer. But in the long run, the projects might have more life if we let them in, and we might all be better off because of it.

Where do you need to open the doors to the “inefficiencies” of diversity? Are there problems that you could better solve by slowing down and listening to voices different than your own?

For all the talk about diversity these days, I think we’ve only scratched the surface of benefits of listening to the “other” and practicing empathy in our daily lives. And as Yehuda Amichai reminded us, it’s the places where we invite other perspectives that become soil fertile for growth and life.

Try opening the door to someone different than yourself. It will make the soil richer, for all of us.